Sunday, 22 February 2015

guests of the nation

People say we've got the power, the phrase, I think is hearts and minds.
Never mind where we came from, we've left our history books behind.
Not so much teachers as fighters, and what we teach is how we fight,
and we're going to ring the changes, we're going to ring it right.

Some lines from Roots by Show of Hands came back to me several times last week: Are Rule Britannia and Swing Low the only songs the English know? I'm not sure, maybe Jerusalem sneaks in there too. We'll obviously discount anything from those awful Saturday night karaoke programmes that seem to have taken over the "Light Entertainment" slot.

We were sitting in a bar in Dublin enjoying the songs provided by a talented singer/guitarist. The previous night we'd been entertained by a band in Murray's down O'Connell Street and the evening before that by a duo in a bar in Temple Bar. Music everywhere. As the bars fill up with tourists the music becomes more obvious - lots of Whiskey in the Jar and Wild Rover of course. The singer on Wednesday evening asked for requests which Mrs Dave and I were happy to write a list of songs we'd like to hear. From that list of about ten songs he admitted to us that there were only two he didn't know. He didn't know From Galway to Graceland and he was a little abashed that he didn't know Irish Ways and Irish Laws but planned to learn it. That shows dedication.

If we asked most English entertainers to sing the same list I wonder how many would know any of them? He'd started his set with Spancil Hill, a song I was introduced to back in the seventies and somewhere have a recording of it with me playing electric lead guitar on. A song of absence - a Wild Swan song. Oh to be back in Auld Oirland instead of waking up every day here in Sunny California.  The guy seemed to want to chat to us after the gig and we had an interesting talk which surprised me. I'd assumed that he was possibly a brickie who played occasional gigs to earn a little more from his hobby. Oh no, this was his job. He'd been a carpenter but preferred doing this - although the house building market had collapsed we learned later. The band the night before toured around the world and had toured Scandinavia last year. These people play regularly in pubs and hotels and the audience don't pay - it's just assumed that punters want to be entertained whilst eating and drinking. These people earn their livings from doing what they love and are good at with no pretensions of fame. No instant success from Mr Cowell and his cronies, thank you.

But the question of culture came up several times during the week. We visited Kilmainham Gaol and
learnt of the appalling way the English treated the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Even James Connelly although already dying after gangrene had set in was wheeled in, tied to a chair and shot. It was quite poignant listening to the story standing there in the very yard the executions took place. In later discussions with Mrs Dave's relatives it became obvious that the lessons learned and the history is stamped on many Irish people's hearts. Time and again a knowledge of history and a sense of nationality and culture were displayed. I don't get a lot of that nowadays from the English. The Scots, the Welsh and Irish all have this sense of a deep culture which does not seem to be there in many particularly young people over here. Perhaps we always come out badly in all these stories and we have a tendency to try to forget what has come to pass. In our rush to become the 51st State I guess we need to rediscover our own culture before it's too late..

There's a pride, I guess, in one's own heritage that Dublin seems saturated with. The "Oirish" shops selling anything you can imagine in green or black and white were virtually every other shop. Nearly every bar has music and, of course, Irish dancing thanks to the run away success of Riverdance. It seems that Mr Flatly is so successful now that the punters can't get enough of it. Wherever you go in Dublin there is Guinness, music, dancing and "traditional Irish food" which seems to be Fish'n'chips, Irish Stew or a Burger. But it's great to see and hear so much live music - we enjoyed it all, even the bloody Wild Rover (clap, clap, clap-clap)! They're tearing up the roads to lay more tram tracks and transport is much cheaper than over here. They have a great bus service, trams and good trains. There's plenty to be proud of. The bar staff were always pleasant and everyone had time to stop and chat, there was never a feeling of being stressed out and rushing about for little purpose or reward.

With the pound strong against the Euro at the moment Europe is probably inundate with travelling Brits. It's been a good few years since I was last in Ireland but it certainly wasn't as expensive as last time I was there. It's a good time to go. Travel broadens the mind, of course. It's definitely given me some food for thought. I wonder if we've just forgotten so much, never learnt it or if we're really ashamed of our own culture?

Oh and by the way, in case you were wondering, yes of course it rained.


Mike C. said...

This seems like an opportune moment to ask: should I have heard of Paul Brady?

I heard his version of "Arthur McBride" this week (on Desert Island Discs) and loved it, then discovered everyone else has heard of him but me -- even Bob Dylan goes on about him.


Dave Leeke said...

Wow, Mike you're in for a treat. Listen to his 70's album "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" with "Lakes of Pontchartain" and "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore". The best of "Nobody Knows" has new solo recordings of "Lakes" and "Arthur McBride".

I almost envy you your journey. His own songs are pretty damned good too. Maybe a glass of Jamesons should accompany that experience!

Mike C. said...

I'll take that as a "yes"...

He seems to be well represented on Spotify -- now where did I put that Jamesons?


Brendini said...

The English have a history of disparaging their own culture, as displayed by Sir Thomas Beecham's oft-quoted dictum to try anyting once except incest and morris dancing.

Dave Leeke said...

Good point. I always found trying to remember the steps a bit difficult.

Zouk Delors said...

First you need to get your sister on her own

Dave Leeke said...

I wondered if anyone would pick up on that . . .

Zouk Delors said...

There was a young fellow from Bicester,
Who had a voluptuous sicester;
Now here's the big story:
In spite of the law 'e
Just couldn't resicester and kicester.

Emzi Zimiziyu

Martyn Cornell said...

Strangely, my wife (from Dublin) can't stand what she dismissively refers to as "diddly-diddly music", and it's me with the complete collection of the Chieftains, Planxty and so on. Here's a fine video telling the story of Arthur McBride and the Sergeant. while Paul Brady sings:

Dave Leeke said...


Thanks for that. My sister was about four or five years older than me (I forget which) and went to the Girls' Grammar School. I, of course went to Alleynes where girls didn't exist. She used to have the house in Haycroft Road filled with her friends who all seemed very attractive and strangely unsettling to this gentle soul.


Yes, Mrs Dave is not really one for too much diddly-diddly nowadays. Strangely, she still holds affection for Leonard Cohen who I never really liked very much. I'm not sure why. I appreciate he's written some good songs but I can't seem to like his voice. I prefer the Jennifer Warnes album called something like Old Blue Mac but I always refer to it as Jenny Sings Lennie.

Thanks for the link, I'll check that out.

Dave (not a robot)